The fight that was happening earlier in chat, was in parts about the significance of the difference between open source and free software. So what's about that?

Practical view: Looking at it from an practical angle, the differences are insignificant. Most licenses that are free software are also open source and most open source licenses are also free software. If it happens to be not the case for one or another, that are mostly edge cases. Also the both movements more or less share the same goal: more rights for the users of software. So from a practical point of view, the differences between the two terms are not important.

Philosophical view: In this question I asked about the philosophical differences between the two terms. The answers involve different things. Both camps point at differences in philosophies. From this point of view the differences are important.

If you think the differences are insignificant or important strongly depends on which side you focus more, which point of view is more important. So overall: It is an opinion!

Therefore claiming the other side acts irrational, is a sect, misses the point, is deviating from the right path and so on can be offensive. So, if you think the difference is not important, please don't think of the ones who think different as overzealous nutjobs, but just as people who have a different opinion. After all Eric S. Raymond, Bruce Perens and Tim O’Reilly thought the difference was important as they coined the term Open Source although Free Software already existed, otherwise their move would have been very redundant. If you think the difference is important, please don't see the ones who don't think so as naive children, who haven't thought the implications through. Both sides have their rationale, which reasoning is more important for you is clearly a matter of opinion, please handle it so.

  • 3
    OK, but what is the question?
    – user490
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 11:36
  • 2
    @EricGärtner Posts on Meta do not need to ask a question. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 12:56
  • @curiousdannii OK, then I'll read this as an appeal.
    – user490
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 12:59
  • 1
    The answers here already cover everything I want to say, so I'll just add this: if we can't do anything about it, and SE say we can't, that's that. People who want to come here still will and we can be welcoming to them; maybe they'll tell other related people. But let's not expend all our effort on trying to achieve perfect neutrality.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:23
  • If I think it's important to use both of these terms in an informative and not in a misleading way, which camp of nutjobbers do I belong to?
    – hardmath
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 14:14

3 Answers 3


I had already said in chat-room this and this.

Quoting from there:

Some try to disparage the free software movement by comparing our disagreement with open source to the disagreements of those radical groups. They have it backwards. We disagree with the open source camp on the basic goals and values, but their views and ours lead in many cases to the same practical behavior—such as developing free software.

As a result, people from the free software movement and the open source camp often work together on practical projects such as software development. It is remarkable that such different philosophical views can so often motivate different people to participate in the same projects....

I recommend visiting Free Software, Open Source, FOSS, FLOSS - same same but different:

Who uses which term, and why?

The Free Software movement is a large and diverse community. People have different interests in Free Software and different reasons to participate. But these differences don't necessarily connect with the terms they use. A lot of people use the term Open Source even while highlighting the social and political dimension of Free Software while on the other hand there are people in our community who prefer the term Free Software but concentrate more on the practical benefits. Whether someone says Open Source or Free Software isn't necessarily an indication of their motivation.

Beside individuals there are also many well known organisations in the Free Software ecosystem. Many of them play an important role and emphasize different aspects of Free Software. For example, some organisations focus on the technical direction of Free Software projects, some on legal aspects, some on political, social and ethical aspects and some focus on license evaluation. These organisations typically have decided to use one or another term and stick to it. But this should not lead to the conclusion that the term they use is the critical factor regarding their motivations. The critical factor are the people driving the organisation and the goals of the organisation as such. The practical experience with different organisations and people in the community shows that the line can't be drawn along the language they use.

This diversity is good, as it shows that Free Software provides many advantages in many different areas of our life. But we should not divide our community just by the term someone prefers. No matter what term someone uses and what their initial motivation is, in the end they works on the same set of software and on the enhancement of software freedom and any other aspect of Free Software.

Note: quoted text is emphasised by me.


  • We shouldn't reject value/goal of either of community (e.g. FSF, OSI)
  • This mostly apply for software, so we can use FLOSS as neutral.
  • However, We should not force anyone to stick/switch to a specific term
  • We should focus on development and marketing of Free & Open (source) projects rather than fighting (or focusing on differentiating) between terminology.

See the origin of this site:

Q&A site for people organizing, marketing or licensing open source development projects.

And always Be nice and Our model.

  • 2
    Excellent point: We should focus on development and marketing of FLOSS rather than fighting between.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:51
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    I fully agree. But then let's use the neutral name :)
    – user490
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:01
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    We should not focus on development and marketing of FLOSS, but on answering questions about FLOSS.
    – Martijn
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 22:42
  • @Martijn Of-course this is a Q&A site for people organizing, marketing or licensing open source development projects.
    – Pandya
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 6:18
  • @Pandya there is a difference between being a Q&A site for people who organize, market or licence FLOSS projects, and being a site for promotion and marketing of FLOSS through Q&A.
    – Martijn
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 8:23
  • I think what @Martijn means is that we shouldn't concentrate on marketing the FLOSS concept, but focus on questions marketing FLOSS development projects. We don't want to promote this strange strange idea of "floss", rather just answer questions from the projects that use it.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 12:31
  • @Martijn ok. Edited (no need to hammer)
    – Pandya
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 14:13
  • @Zizouz212 ok. Revised post. BTW focusing on Q&A that marketing & developing project also results in marketing & development of projects actually.
    – Pandya
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 14:16

I do not come from the FSF side of the philosophical disagreement here. Any 'anti-FSF' bias implied by the URL is overwhelmed, for me, by the incessant criticism of any writing here that does not comply with the FSF's demands to control the English language and shape the discourse.

Not everyone accepts that 'open' and 'free' are antonymic; some of us feel that 'open source' is a generic term that is perfectly fine for use in the English language when the particular issue at hand is not the distinctions between the various licensing models. I am happy to use the FSF's terms when discussing the FSF's licenses, but I am not happy to be hectored when, in writing up an informal piece of history in which I was a (minor) participant, I got hectored over this question.

This site is not here to market anything. It is to provide a forum for experts to answer questions. If the site is filled with legal speculation unanchored by reference to actual legal data, and if it is filled with comments insist on particular choices of words, it won't be a forum for experts answering question, it will just be another tiresome forum of sterile debate.


Both philosophical views must equally be honoured and visible in:

  • the site name, including the URL,
  • the site description.

We already discussed this. As it stands, there is no clear opinion for or against any name proposed.

But we can not stop at this point. Right now, by the simple normative power of fact, the site name and description are biased. If we take the appeal of this question seriously, we must honour both the Free Software and the Open Source philosophy. This is not a matter of majority. We can't decide for or against one philosophy by leaving name and description non-neutral. Only by acting now on the name issue can we honour the importance of and the opinions about the philosophical differences.

  • No. It is not possible to change the site url. We've already discussed this with the community managers. Also, quite frankly, there have been a few efforts to get everything in the site neutral, but it doesn't seem to be coming to life by the community, at least in my eyes.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:38
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    "it doesn't seem to be coming to life by the community" Yes, that is my observation, too. But because the neutrality issue is still relevant to me, I insist on it.
    – user490
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:44
  • I do to. Except sometimes I feel like I don't know what to do...
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:44
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    @Zizouz212 It may not be easy to change the site url, and they may not want to, but I'm sure it's possible. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 21:37
  • One of the cms, namely Tim, told us that changing the URL is now feasible, especially since there is a whole bunch of content. What he did say, is we can put redirects to the current URL if they are required.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:12

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